Cooper wins law­suit over agency ap­point­ments

The News & Observer - - Triangle & N.c. - — GREG GOR­DAN OF MCCLATCHY DC AND CHAR­LOTTE OB­SERVER STAFF RE­PORTS

A Wake County judge has struck down as un­con­sti­tu­tional a law that au­tho­rized former Repub­li­can Gov. Pat McCrory in his fi­nal days in of­fice to name the top lead­ers of the agency that de­cides com­pen­sa­tion for thou­sands of work­ers in­jured on the job.

Those ap­point­ments nor­mally would have be­longed to in­com­ing Demo­cratic Gov. Roy Cooper.

Wake County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Henry Hight, in a rul­ing filed on Mon­day, found that the leg­is­la­ture’s ac­tions in 2016 vi­o­lated North Carolina’s con­sti­tu­tional sep­a­ra­tion of pow­ers be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and leg­isla­tive branches. The judge said the leg­is­la­tion de­prived Cooper of ap­pointees who “share his pol­icy views and pri­or­i­ties.”

It was the lat­est in a se­ries of ju­di­cial re­bukes to the Repub- li­can ma­jor­ity in the leg­is­la­ture, which has adopted a se­ries of laws to strengthen its grip over the state’s gov­ern­ment in re­cent years. Fed­eral courts have struck down the leg­is­la­ture’s re­shap­ing of leg­isla­tive and con­gres­sional dis­tricts along bound­aries fa­vor­ing Repub­li­cans and its re­struc­tur­ing of the state elec­tions board.

Upon learn­ing of Hight’s rul­ing, Cooper promptly named sit­ting Com­mis­sioner Philip Bad­dour, a Demo­crat, as the com­mis­sion’s new chair and an­other Demo­crat, Deputy Com­mis­sioner Myra Grif­fin, as vice chair of the North Carolina In­dus­trial Com­mis­sion.

In what Cooper’s of­fice this week called a “power grab,” the leg­is­la­ture voted on Dec. 15, 2016 to au­tho­rize McCrory to name the agency’s chair and vice chair. The com­mis­sion chair con­trols the hir­ing and fir­ing of about 20 deputy com- mis­sion­ers who act as judges to de­cide dis­puted claims by in­jured work­ers and a range of other claimants, in­clud­ing those al­leg­ing harm from vac­cines and seek­ing dam­ages for wrong­ful felony con­vic­tions.

The leg­is­la­tion en­abled McCrory to ap­point sit­ting Com­mis­sioner Charl­ton Allen, a McCrory ap­pointee, as the com­mis­sion’s chair­man on Dec. 30, 2016 – two days be­fore Cooper was to take of­fice. At the same time, McCrory also car­ried out a pro­vi­sion in the leg­is­la­tion de­signed to ben­e­fit one per­son – Yolanda Stith, wife of his thenchief of staff, Thomas Stith.

McCrory ap­pointed her to a six-fig­ure job as the agency’s vice com­mis­sioner un­der a one­time ar­range­ment al­low­ing her to fin­ish the last half of a va­cant seat, fol­lowed by a full six-year term. All of the other five com­mis­sion­ers are lim­ited to sixyear terms.

The amend­ment ef­fec­tively giv­ing Stith a nine-year term “was in­tended to re­ward one per­son, and only one per­son, with a spe­cial, ex­tended term on the In­dus­trial Com­mis­sion,” Hight wrote in his 19-page opin­ion. “Ac­cord­ingly, the court finds that the amend­ment was not in­tended to pro­mote the gen­eral wel­fare of the State.”

Be­cause the com­mis­sion­ers’ terms are stag­gered, “bar­ring an un­ex­pected va­cancy, Gov­er­nor Cooper will not have ap­pointed a ma­jor­ity of Com­mis­sion mem­bers un­til the fi­nal year of his first term” if the leg­is­la­tion re­mained in­tact, the judge wrote.

Con­trol of the In­dus­trial Com­mis­sion has been a hotly con­tested mat­ter be­tween the state’s busi­ness lobby and plain­tiffs’ at­tor­neys who rep­re­sent in­jured work­ers.

Leg­is­la­tion passed at the same time also sought to re­struc­ture the North Carolina elec­tions board, merg­ing it with the state ethics com­mis­sion, with the stated in­tent of mak­ing it bi­par­ti­san. The elec­tions board is nor­mally con­trolled by the gov­er­nor’s party.

Cooper, who at the time was North Carolina’s at­tor­ney gen­eral, sued Se­nate leader Philip Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore within hours of McCro- ry’s ap­point­ments. He won a pre­lim­i­nary in­junc­tion of the changes to the elec­tion board days later, but the court rev­er­sal of the In­dus­trial Com­mis­sion pro­vi­sions took nearly half of his four-year term.

Repub­li­cans could ap­peal the lat­est rul­ing.

LEND­ING TREE LURED BY $8.4M IN IN­CEN­TIVES

On­line ser­vice Lend­ingTree says it plans to dou­ble its pres­ence in Char­lotte.

News out­lets re­port Gov. Roy Cooper and Meck­len­burg County of­fi­cials an­nounced Thurs­day that the com­pany that matches lenders with con­sumers will add 436 jobs over the next five years that pay an av­er­age of over $100,000.

Un­der a deal ap­proved by the North Carolina Eco­nomic In­vest­ment Com­mit­tee, the com­pany will re­ceive $8.37 mil­lion in state in­cen­tives for the Char­lotte-based com­pany. Ac­cord­ing to the deal, Lend­ingTree also is ex­pected to re­ceive $542,818 from Meck­len­burg County and $612,560 from the city.

The com­pany cur­rently em­ploys ap­prox­i­mately 490 work­ers in Char­lotte.

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